Have We Swiped Left on Gender Stereotypes? Science Says No

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Kayla Heisler1.16k

We all know the advent of online dating has revolutionized romantic courtships – but how much so? Ideally, not having to rely on friends or family to discover eligible partners should push people out of their comfort zones, but studies indicate that traditional gender roles have persisted with regard to dating despite its digitization. 

Researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute examined extensive data from studies on online courtship and analyzed data from 150,000 eHarmony users to investigate mate preferences and communication patterns of heterosexual male and female users. Researchers then studied how users have changed their attitudes and behaviors over 10 years. 

According to the numbers, men still like to feel like they’re in charge. 

The study shows that men are still 30 percent more likely to initiate contact than women. And when women do make the first move, mens' response rates drop 15 percent. Even when communication can only occur after mutually signaled interest, such as ‘liking’ one another on Tinder, messages were still 5 times more likely to be initiated by a man than by a woman. Additionally, when women did reach out first, they expected the men to “overcompensate” by reaching out more frequently. Learned gender roles—the man does the calling and the woman waits by the phone—seem to have transcended the technology transition. 

The study also revealed that women are evaluated more on their looks.

Factors that determine whether or not women received messages and responses were physical traits such as youth and athleticism. Men, on the other hand, were more judged by their perceived  degree of agreeableness and altruism. Cleverness also was a predictor of greater success for men, but not for women.

Another stereotypical gender role that continues to exist in online dating is the idea that men should earn more money

The study revealed that women are 30 percent more likely to consider income when looking for a partner, though both men and women have decreased the importance they place on income.

 However, women are more selective of their dating pool than men, which researchers posit could suggest is a remnant of the negative stigma against women who date many men and positive credit for men who date many women.

One reassuring prediction made based on their data analysis is that over time, users will continue to place less value on  inherent traits such as race and and height and greater value on traits that are not attained at birth such as education.


Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets anthology.